Envoy: Iraq rebuild will take more time
Iraq’s U.S. ambassador said May 6 that his country still needs time before it can fully finance its own reconstruction effort, despite an oil-export windfall that has lawmakers on Capitol Hill demanding Baghdad pick up more of the tab.
Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie put the cost just of rebuilding his country’s shattered basic infrastructure in the hundreds of billions of dollars, arguing that U.S. critics should not attack his country’s budget choices in a “populist manner.”
“We are willing to pay more and more and, ultimately, to pay all our reconstruction costs,” Mr. Sumaida’ie told reporters and editors at The Washington Times. “We are not shying away from our responsibility.”
The funding issue has come to the fore as Congress takes up President Bush’s latest spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With Baghdad projected to run up a massive budget surplus this year, thanks to $70 billion in oil revenues, congressional Democrats have sharply questioned the administration’s request for some $3 billion in reconstruction, training and equipment funds for Iraq.
Bills now under consideration in both the House and Senate would put new conditions on U.S. reconstruction aid in light of the surplus.
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a measure two weeks ago that would prohibit the Pentagon from funding any Iraqi reconstruction project costing more than $2 million. The bill would also require Iraq’s government to pay the salaries and training costs of Sunni militias that have been funded by the U.S. military after they turned on al Qaeda and other extremists groups.
“It is unacceptable that U.S. taxpayers continue to bear a burden that the Iraqi government can and should assume,” said committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat.
House Democrats have drafted a separate funding bill that would prohibit U.S. aid for rebuilding towns or equipping Iraqi troops unless the Iraqi government matched every dollar, the Associated Press reported May 6.
While pushing hard for the overall funding bill, the administration already has beat a strategic retreat on some of the issues.
The Pentagon two weeks ago deleted a $171 million request to help pay for new police stations in Iraq.
“I heard the committee loud and clear on the need for Iraq to pay for economic and civilian infrastructure,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in a letter to Mr. Levin.
But Mr. Sumaida’ie said even with the oil profits, Iraq faces financing, logistical and security problems just in restoring health, sanitation and basic utility services that “collapsed” under SaddamHusseinandthechaoticpostwar period.
“Iraq is a completely shattered country,” he said. A political exile from his homeland for more than two decades, Mr. Sumaida’ie said, “I did not even recognize Baghdad, the city where I was born, when I returned.”
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